Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Floating the E-Book Boat

Earlier this summer, outside of an Apple store in Southern California, I was charmed to see an off-duty Apple Genius reading a book. Made of paper. A non-e-book. It seemed disloyal of him somehow. And it also seemed honest. Yes, he might as well have been saying, the world is changing. And me? I’m part of that change. But the sun is shining and I’ve got this half hour and I just wanna sit here and enjoy my book.

Despite the fact that I’ve been an early e-book adopter in almost every way (I teach courses in making them and my own backlist is becoming increasingly available in electronic formats) there are still times -- many, many times -- when I want to be just like that Apple Genius: I want to just be left alone to read a book.

Now all that said, it’s unsurprising, particularly in these dodgy financial times, that an increasing number of readers are purchasing their new reading material in electronic formats. Not only are e-books splendidly uncomplicated to buy, in most cases, they’re also cheaper, something that consumers are noticing and cashing in on. According to Techcrunch’s Paul Carr, “People who weren’t reading for pleasure, now are. This is good.”
Once upon a time, hardcover books were the only way that book lovers could read new titles. This allowed publishers to charge a premium for a product — a big, shiny hardback book — that actually isn’t much more expensive to produce than a paperback. Today, most publishers release the ebook edition of a new title at the same time as a hardback. Ebooks are a cheaper, more portable, quicker way for fans to get hold of their favourite author’s latest work so it’s absolutely unremarkable that hardcore book buyers are migrating to that format. Sure enough, hardback sales have dipped in the past 12 months but, in the same period, ebook sales have soared. In terms of both unit sales (up 4.1% from 2008) and revenue (up 5.6% from 2008), American publishers experienced a bumper year last year.sales have soared. In terms of both unit sales (up 4.1% from 2008) and revenue (up 5.6% from 2008), American publishers experienced a bumper year last year.
And now, finally, with some significant (partially e-book generated) shifts in the market, independent bookstores are finding ways to hit back. From PopMatters:
So how are the survivors coping? There seems to be no single secret, although each of the remaining local independents has found a way to offer enough extra value and a sense of community — book club meetings, appearances by bestselling authors, discounted books for students — to convince customers they’re worth the trip.
Some independents are even finding ways to float their own version of the e-book boat:
In some cases, the independent booksellers are even flirting with the enemy in hopes of keeping a share of the book market. Both Next Chapter in Mequon and Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, another former Harry W. Schwartz location, have started selling e-books that can be used on certain e-readers, including the Barnes & Noble Nook. They can’t sell for the popular Kindle because it’s a proprietary device connected to Amazon’s own online store.

“I never thought I’d be selling a Barnes & Noble product,” said Daniel Goldin, Boswell’s owner.
Increasingly what all of us have to remember is this: the only battle to be fought here is for reading. As Carr reminds us, “measuring the state of ‘books’ based on the number of hardcover sales is like measuring the popularity of ‘music’ based on how many people are buying cassettes.”

As I’ve said so often: in the end, the format does not matter. It’s nothing more than a delivery method. Just give me my story and let it take me away.



Blogger barton said...

I don't agree, entirely. It not just about reading. There is a distinct and beautiful experience when one goes into a bookstore that is utterly lost in the on-line world. Aside from the freedom to look, feel, sample there is the person behind the counter who (hopefully) cares about the product and can make suggestions, etc. There is also a sense of community that is inherent in many good bookstores that is increasingly being eroded in the world of downloadable content. Reading may be a solitary activity, but it has its roots in a communal one. We should be careful and recognize what has been lost in this transaction with the new technology. Amazon has killed a lot of bookstores; this will take care of the survivors.

Thursday, August 18, 2011 at 8:39:00 AM PDT  

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